|My Teacher arrived uninvited |
this morning, alive and kicking—
and he left that way, too.
You see Buddhist vows prescribe Thou Shalt Not Kill, although the Buddhist language is not quite so OT. Simply, one should live life in harmony with all creatures, not putting oneself above any living being and certainly not bringing about its death. The roach was lying on his back with his sticky feet flailing in the air, quite helpless. I kept an eye on him as I finished my prayers, asking for guidance in thought, word, intention and deed, while the roach kicked his little hairy legs in the air. Then I slowly rose, retrieved a brown paper grocery bag and a dust pan from the kitchen and returned to the living room where the roach was still splayed like a June Bug. I took a deep breath—you never know what a cockroach playing 'possum will do once nudged, one of their many trickeries and why they give me the heebie-geebies—and scooped him onto the dust pan and into the open bag. An aversive shiver went through me as I hurriedly crumpled the top of the bag to close off his exist, then I carried said bag out my front door and down the stairs to take my uninvited, yet honored, guest out of doors. I released him with an ungentle shake into the shrubbery far away from the entrance to my apartment. Once released, he began to crawl quite aggressively straight toward me, his "I'm dying act" now forgotten. I ran back into my building, discarding the paper bag in the lobby recycling bin before racing back upstairs into my apartment, locking the door behind me.
I knew this day would come: the day I would have to make a conscious effort to show compassion to a cockroach, the nemesis of my nightmares. This is the reason Buddhism prescribes mindfulness and the honoring of life. The very act of stopping a reaction of aversion, gathering strength (and a dust pan and paper bag), carefully removing the loathsome creature and releasing him unharmed is the essence of all Buddhist practice. Now in a weird way, I'm grateful to the cockroach for giving me the opportunity to practice compassion. And practice is key in mastering any activity, right? Were he and his brethren hoards not on this earth, I would not be tested. Perhaps I have found the cockroach's purpose in the world is not to spread pestilence and fear, but to incite gentleness and compassion. Think about it next time before you call the exterminator or slam a shoe-heel down on this lowliest of creatures. The cockroach can be an excellent Dharma teacher, depending upon how you choose to perceive him.